The White Rap Commodity Cultural Studies Essay

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Culture in the 1990s was that of prosperity in America. With the start of the Computer era, American consumerism was at a high. An especially new category was devoted to teens. Mainstream music featured artists such as Britney Spears, Cristina Aguilera, N'SYNC and the Backstreet Boys. These artists focused on love songs detailing the cushy life being enjoyed by the middle class. It was a time of perfectionism that highlighted and celebrated all that was uniform perfect and American about our culture. This music celebrated all that was beautiful, wealthy, and perfect setting a cultural standard matched by popular TV shows and MTV. At the close of the decade, a rapper came on the scene and shook up everything. Marshall Mathers AKA Eminem exploded on the scene with a torrent of angry and offensive music. His outrageous lyrics and vulgar language shocked everyone almost as much as his pale skin. There had been white rappers before whose message glorified the lives they lived as middle class white kids, but the message was wasted on the established hip hop scene and chocked up to garbage. Hip hop had been about glorifying thug life, and these middle class white kids from the suburbs weren't qualified according to the masses. Eminem however was different. Life for Marshall Mathers had not been blessed with the spoils of suburban living. He lived with his single mother, who had a hard time finding work. On top of the money problems they had drug problems as well and Marshall would often need friends to buy his clothes for him. Armed with knowledge of the streets you only get from living a hard life Eminem was able to be the first rapper to bridge the gap between white artist and hip hop. Under the guidance of hip hop icon Dr. Dre Eminem's career took off like a rocket, with the media fueled on with outrage over his explicit lyrics. In their eyes Eminem was an unholy messenger with a congregation that would inevitably be marked by the media as a danger to the young minds of America. Since his earliest success the media has been biased negatively against Eminem because he is a white rapper who condones violence and drug use in his music.

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Eminem caused a sensation with his album "Slim Shady LP" in 1999. My Name is was a big hit and was prominently shown on MTV and played on several radio stations in 2000. But just a few years earlier he was virtually unheard of. His first album "Infinite" was released in 1996 by a small time Detroit record company and went nowhere. Eminem talked about the early struggles he faced as a white MC in an interview with Spin Magazine in 2000. When asked about the affect being white had on his carrier as a rapper Eminem explained how " most of his shows were for all black crowds in the beginning" and how they would compliment him by saying "You're dope for a white boy." After a while however the compliment became insult. He didn't want to be separated or limited to what he could do by the color of his skin. (Spin, Chocolate on the inside). The media reacted to Eminem with little interest. White rappers who had come before him had left a reputation of being one hit wonders and with the looming embarrassment caused by Vanilla Ice and his phony thug life that lost him his credibility; the media did not expect Eminem to be here for long. In the Spin interview Eminem also talked about how he almost quit the rap game before he even made it big. It was right after his daughter was born. Eminem was living with his girl friend in a house on 7 mile in Detroit in a predominantly poor black neighborhood. "Everything was "white this, white that." And he was sick of it. He told Kim (Hayley's mother and his girlfriend at the time that he wanted to move to the suburbs, they argued and he claimed "Can't you see they don't want us here?" Eminem almost quit but after a 6 month break from writing he found that he just couldn't give up his dream of being a rap star. He kept "going to the clubs and taking the abuse" but was very frustrated with the situation. (Spin, "Chocolate on the inside"). Eminem worked hard and pushed through and grew in the world of the rap underground. One of the very few magazines to acknowledge Eminem while he was in the underground was the "bible of hip hop" The Source Magazine. In March of 1998 they featured Eminem in their article "Unsigned Hype" , which is a section dedicated to artist who are without a producer who are generating small success.(Moralas, 46) The article did very little to help Eminem and he began to participate in numerous rap competitions and winning several of them. His success was still limited. Very little buzz occurred in the media. There was very little doubt about his actual skill the question was would the masses connect with a white MC? Most magazines thought no, The Source Magazine had an opportunity to be the first magazine with an interview with Eminem after the success of his single "My Name Is" that had come from the underground and made its way to MTV. But they canceled, like many magazines did, because they didn't think a White MC would be something their readers would want to hear about. (Bozza, "Whatever You Say I Am") It wasn't until Dr. Dre, famous rap artist and producer signed Eminem to his Aftermath record label and the release of Eminem's second album Slim Shady LP that the media began to acknowledge Eminem.

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Music critics and the media did not take kindly to Slim Shady LP in fact the general consensus was shock, disbelief and outrage. Billboard author Timothy White claimed "If you seek to play a leadership role in making money by exploiting the world's misery, the music industry remains an easy place to start. Witness the "The Slim Shady LP" (Aftermath/Interscope/ Universal) by Eminem (aka Marshall Mathers), a debut album whose main themes include drugging, raping, and murdering women." (White, "How to respond" 1). While Entertainment Weekly's David Browne gives the Slim Shady LP a C+ calling it "slick, savvy and boorish" and touches on the troublesome content of the album and it's outrageous lyrics. Time's Christopher John Farley focused on how Eminem's music moves America further from a place of cultural colorblindness. "Eminem and his music, as well as his film 8 Mile and his public persona, raise anew the problem of the relationship between artistic goodness or achievement, on the one hand, and ethical or social goodness, on the other."( Roman Espejo, ""Lyrics with Violence and Exploitation Harm Young People.") Bill O'Reilly is one to disagree with Eminem's message as well. "Any way you slice it, Marshall Mathers sells degenerate behavior to kids. The entertainment industry, long devoid of any social conscience whatsoever, provides Mr. Mathers with cover and calls him a creative genius and a sensitive soul. Students of history will remember that they called Caligula [the Roman Emperor considered sexually perverse and cruel] that once as well. He concludes that "If you think this Eminem person is harmless, you are astonishingly wrong. Like Elvis, he will leave his mark on America. But unlike Elvis, the legacy Mathers will leave is one that will injure many children, especially those without much parental guidance." (Roman Espejo, "Lyrics with Violence and Exploitation Harm Young People.") Eminem's vulgar content even managed to make it to the Senate in 2000 when, then Vice-president Cheney's wife, Lynne spoke to a Senate committee about Eminem's lyrics. She claimed they were "hateful" and released a statement "condemning the rapper's "repeated glorification of violence against women and gay people." ("Scoop" People Weekly) "There's no question about the repugnancy of many of his songs. They're nauseating in terms of how we as a culture like to view human progress." Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, quoted when asked about Eminem and his Grammy nomination. Eminem continued to flourish in the wake of the media frenzy of his controversy. His sales actually benefited from it. The focus was one-sided many artists before him had similar lyrical content without the media persecution.

Eminem adopted a style that was not his own, one that had been prevalent in rap for many years before he came on the scene. Artists such as the Notorious B I G, NWA, and DMX made music with similar lyrical content as Eminem but did not suffer the same treatment by the media. For Example Eminem was harshly criticized for his song "97 Bonnie and Clyde" when he raps about taking his young daughter Haley Jade to the lake and having her help him dispose of the dead body of Haley's mother. "Mama's too sweepy to hear you screamin in her ear (ma-maa!) That's why you can't get her to wake, but don't worry, Da-da made a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake, Here, you wanna help da-da tie a rope around this rock? (yeah!) We'll tie it to her footsie then we'll roll her off the dock" (azlyrics.com). This passage is very similar to one from an NWA song called "Appetite for Destruction" from their album Niggas 4 Life that was released in 1991 "Appetite for destruction, But before he decide to quit he gonna commit, Murder in the first degree, a manslaughter, Takin a life of his wife and young daughter". (lyricsmania.com). "One Less Bitch" is another song on Niggas 4 Life. In this song NWA rap about killing women whom they had employed in prostitution. "She was the perfect ho' but what do you know, the bitch tried to gag me, so - I had to kill her, Yeah, straight hittin', Now listen up and lemme tell you how I did it, yo, I tied her to the bed, I was thinking the worst but yo I had to let my niggaz fuck her first yeah, Loaded up the 44 yo, Then I straight smoked the ho'"(lyricsmania.com) This is very similar to Eminem's song "Who Knew" "You want me to fix up lyrics while the President gets his dick sucked? [*ewwww*] Fuck that, take drugs, rape sluts, Make fun of gay clubs, men who wear make-up". (azlyrics.com) The Notorious B.I.G. also has songs that are compatible to those of Eminem. In the song "Machine Gun Funk" Notorious B.I.G. sings about "Sticks and stones break bones, but the gat'll kill you quicker, Especially when I'm drunk off the liquor, Smokin funk by the boxes, packin glocks is, natural to eat you niggaz like chocolates" (azlyrics.com) Now notice the similarities between "Machine Gun Funk" and this expert from Eminem's "Drug Ballad" "Then in a couple of minutes that bottle of Guinness is finished, You are now allowed to officially slap bitches, You have the right to remain violent and start wilin', Start a fight with the same guy that was smart eyin' you, Get in your car, start it, and start drivin', Over the island and cause a 42 car pile-up".(azlyrics.com) Another African American artist whose style is very similar to Eminem's is DMX. In his song "Ruff Riders Anthem" DMX claims "I resort to violence, my niggaz move in silence, like you don't know what are style is" A violence that Eminem mirrors and longs for in his song "Marshall Mathers" "Whatever happened to whylin out and bein violent? Whatever happened to catchin a good-ol' fashioned, passionate ass-whoopin and gettin your shoes coat and your hat Tooken?" (azlyrics.com) All of these artists were popular in the 90s. All of them had violent lyrics. But only one of them was singled out and badgered by the media. That was Eminem, the white guy. Because the media is ok with the idea of an angry black message that harked on the impulse to kill and commit crimes but as soon a white man starts spreading that same message it becomes a spectacle. For the violence Eminem portrays in his music the media dissected everything about his lyrical content and paid special attention because he was white. Suddenly when a white man speaks these words it's so much more threatening to the media. In that way the media is racially biased against Eminem.

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While the media is bias they cannot ignore Eminem's raw lyrical talent. He sings about violence and claims it to be nothing but vulgar humor. He said in a Rolling Stone interview how his life had been nothing but hard work and struggle Eminem was quoted "do you wanna be like this guy, F**k no you don't!" (Bozza, Rolling Stone Interview) Though Eminem claims to be trying to show the youth of America all the things not to do, his young fans might not be able to understand the depth of the message and take the violent suggestions as an affirmation and cultural acceptance of bad behavior, inevitably leading to a breakdown of the social standards the American Media has come to expect. So though they may call mention to his undeniable skill, the media is still biased negatively against Eminem because of his violent and vulgar lyrics and abnormal message.